The two A24 films presented today during The Contenders LA program were wildly different projects — Hereditary is a harrowing psychological tale that slides into supernatural horror while Eighth Grade is a coming-of-age tale that tugs at the heart ‚ but on closer inspection, the pair do share some common ground.
Fractured families and missing mothers, for instance, are central elements in both films. Each of them is the work of a writer-director making his feature-film debut. And, as Hereditary star Toni Collette noted backstage, both films take audiences to a frightening place. “They are both pretty scary situations, right? I mean, middle school? That’s like a horror movie already.”
In Hereditary, Collette portrays Annie, an artist grieving the death of her overbearing mother and struggling to understand clues that hint of a dark family mystery. The Australian actress is no newcomer to supernatural horror (she was Oscar-nominated for The Sixth Sense) but she still found Hereditary to be a singular experience.
“I think every actor longs for a chance to ‘go for it’ and when I read this script it was undeniable,” Collette said. “It was such an opportunity for me to kind of traverse so many different areas…it’s the story of an awakening in this woman. People usually have an awakening or an epiphany about their lives and it means they have some understanding and it gives them a little more control in their lives. I think the true horror of this story is that once she does realize what the truth of her life has been there’s no hope, no way out.”
Hereditary premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and earned strong reviews, especially for Collette’s work. Writer-director Ari Aster said the horror genre helped the film. “One thing that I love about genre storytelling,” Aster said, “is that you can take thematic material that might be difficult for people to digest…and you can filter it through this other thing that takes what might be a deterrent to people seeing the movie and suddenly render it a virtue.”
Eighth Grade stars Elsie Fisher as Kayla, a 13-year-old is struggling to endure the final week of eighth grade. Her views of life are framed in her vlog entries, shaping the film’s messages about social media. The movie’s writer-director, Bo Burnham is a successful comedian, actor, and musician but started his success as a teenage YouTube personality. As of last month, his videos have been viewed collectively 248 million views.
“There’s a weird dissociative thing that it gives to kids that I don’t think we’re processing,” Burnham said. “You know we talk about social media in terms of cyberbullying and big social trends. We don’t talk about the subjective experience of it which is: you’re living your life, you are taking inventory of your own life, you are cultivating your own life. You are not only walking through a moment but you are also hovering over yourself, watching yourself live a moment. You are being nostalgic for moments that haven’t happened yet. You are planning parties and thinking about how they’d be looked back on as events that were captured.”
Burnham said that social media tug on perception is changing life. “To me, the tension of what it means to be alive right now, for a lot of people, is that we feel that the movie of our life isn’t good enough that we’re sort of failing to live up to the cultural standards that the internet gives us.”